For any new business, deciding on your name is difficult. You know you need to get it right. While your talent and hard work will contribute to your success, your company name could make all the difference.
How do you stand out from the rest? What qualities might your brand name evoke? How do you control that all-important first impression?
Are you original and left-field? Are you cheap and cheerful, or high-end and aspirational?
Do you do ‘what it says on the tin’ or – dare I say it – are you a little bit ‘kooky’?
Particularly for web designers and digital marketers, your name needs to resonate with your target market. If someone is to trust you with your brand, they need to have confidence in your ability to market yourself.
It also has to be unique – and there are only so many words in the world..!
Helping you decide
By studying 10,000 UK web design and digital marketing companies I’ve noticed some popular naming fashions or conventions. Whether you follow the trends or decide to buck those trends by trying something new is your decision.
Some caveats: the company names I looked at were from our customers on our reseller hosting plans, and from publicly-available mailing lists. It wasn’t an exhaustive list, so I make no claims of scientific accuracy!
This is meant to be a fun bit of research and subjective opinion. The intent isn’t to single-out any companies out for ridicule, and I’ve done my best to avoid referring to any real companies. But if I’ve made a mistake and accidentally used your company name as an example, please let me know and I’ll remove it!
The popular choices: pixels
It was the repeated appearances of this word in so many company names that inspired this article. 95 companies had the word ‘pixel’ in the name.
A pixel refers to the smallest single component of a digital image. For that reason, it makes sense that if you’re working with digital images to use the word in your company name.
And clearly, lots of people agree with you.
What makes ‘pixel’ so popular? I have a few theories. Firstly, it’s a technical word, but it’s one which – thanks to screens and cameras – the public are relatively familiar-with.
It’s only two syllables, unlike many other design/tech words. They’re not scared of pixels, like they might be of ‘skeuomorphic’.
It’s also a cute-sounding word! ‘Pixels’ might make us think of pixies? It could be the name of a sidekick in a cartoon (from Pixar, maybe..?).
At the very least, it makes us think of ‘pics’ – which is informal, and naturally, relevant to visual media. But it’s everywhere in digital design!
Blue – and other colours
Aah, colour psychology. How clever of you to use ‘blue’ in your web design brand name! Like 169 other original thinkers.
Blue conveys trust, stability, creativity, intelligence, calm: you name it, it has many of the qualities you’d look for in a web design agency, or any company for that matter. It’s no surprise that many of the big brands (and ‘blue’-chips) use blue in their branding.
Yet…not many large companies actually use the word blue in their name.
I can think of a couple of brands (pregnancy tests, toilet cleaner – yeuch!), but it’s interesting that creative companies are so enamoured with it.
I guess ‘blue’ (and many other colour-related names) adds a vowel to a brand name and helps distinguish it from others. They can help add ‘quirkiness:’ which – from the evidence – appears to be something which web designers crave.
Try this experiment: think of an animal, any animal. Put the word ‘blue’ in front of it. Bang it in a search engine.
I bet there’s a company or organisation called that. They’ll probably call themselves unconventional, if they’re conventional enough to have an ‘about us’ page.
Animals are everywhere, especially fish and monkeys (137 companies). If you’re not naming a craft beer after an animal, you’re probably naming a digital marketing agency.
It will probably have an unusual colour associated with it, too.
I think animals are used for a few different reasons. Firstly, it’s the human qualities that we’ve associated with them: monkeys that are cheeky/intelligent, foxes that are crafty, cats that are cool, fish that are…er, slimy? It’s an attempt at that there ‘psychology’ business again.
The second is again – like colours – an attempt to appear a bit ‘edgy’. Surreal, nonsensical, whimsical. Because creative people are like that, apparently.
And all successful business people know that Dali was great at hitting conversion targets.
It also could betray a lack of ideas: as animals have relatively neutral associations – at least compared to some words – using an animal could be seen as a safe bet. But if you combine it with a colour, that means you’re bit of a loose cannon, a rogue or scamp…
Finally, it should make your name memorable, at least if you pick an unusual animal. I wouldn’t recommend ‘<Something>-Fish’. Your potential clients might get confused with you – The Polka-Dot Fish Group – with your bitter web design company rival: Pin-Stripe Fish Inc.
Fish are very popular.
The lesson there is to avoid pet, farm and zoo animals.
It’s actually hard to find a colour & animal combination that isn’t already the name of a company, hence the macaw at the top of this article – so you’ll certainly be in company if you join this cohort.
Not a single agency was named after a bacterium. How about Crimson Campylobacter Creative? You can have that one for free.
Zing! You’re zesty, fresh and full of energy: sweet and not at all bitter…
Companies get named after fruits for very-much for the same reasons as companies get named after animals (unless the company sells fruit).
It’s because of their positive, healthy associations; maybe that they carry the seeds of success (sorry). They have an aroma of unconventionality.
Juicy citrus fruits are the most popular – lime and lemon in particular.
Maybe because designers spend a lot of time staring into their drinks?
Fruits also appeal to the passionate soul of the artist as they’re easier to draw than animals.
At last count, I could find 35 companies with fruits in their name, but I may have left some fruits out (there are lots). If you’re sophisticated you can even tick the colour-box with fruit: orange, peach, lemon and so on.
Big and bright
I wonder how many sole traders have ‘big’ in their name? And how ‘big’ their profits are?
I find words like ‘big’ (86); and ‘bright’ (166) and similar ones in agency’s names a little disingenuous. To me, it betrays a lack of respect for their potential customers’ intelligence: that it would make their company appear larger or ‘brighter’. They may be right, of course…
To be fair, ‘big’ is often combined with something surreal – like Big Turnip – which again seems to be aimed at showing how unique your company is, along with all hundreds of the other similarly-named companies.
Have the ‘unusual’ names become mainstream?
Maybe 10 years ago, having a wacky, surreal-sounding name helped for brand recognition. They helped you stand out.
But so many design companies have these ‘unusual’ names, it’s now become rather prosaic.
Also, so many design companies think it’s a good idea to have such a name that it’s spread everywhere: bars, cafes and drinks in particular.
So what was something intended to make you stand out from the crowd, has now made you into a (blue) sheep.
Although just because I’m not a fan of this trend, that doesn’t mean you should avoid it.
Maybe originality is overrated
A story from my marketing past to illustrate this: we were having a meeting about a new website for a legal services firm. When looking at similar sites, we’d seen noticed that law firms seemed to use all the same cliched pictures.
There were the usual stock photos of unrealistically-glamorous and cheerful suits, obviously.
There was also a lots of images of:
- scales (of justice)
- law books
- contracts, and so on.
All very brown and stuffy:
What the client was certain about was that they didn’t want the site to include such stereotypical images. They wanted something original, unique, memorable. I agreed with them.
Then a bright spark chirped up: “Maybe the reason that other firms use these pictures is that they work?”
It made me reassess my prejudices. Maybe the new and unusual is overrated, when it comes to commercial success. It’s proven that people are generally more comfortable around what they know and have seen before.
Certainly from an artistic point of view, original ideas should be celebrated. Creative types are often are attracted to such things, naturally. If your target market is those creative types, then a fun and ‘kooky’ company name may work for you. But the creative industries are small and few in number compared to all the other potential market sectors.
Uniqueness may have value, but if it doesn’t make money, how long can you afford to keep going?
Perhaps being ‘boring and predictable’ when naming your company gives you a better chance of success?
Some alternatives to being ‘alternative’: names that actually describe what you do
The most popular word to have in your web design company is ‘web’, with 2346 occurrences and ‘design’ with 2158. ‘Media’ is used 918 times, ‘digital’ appears 663 times, while there are 469 occurrences of ‘creative’.
Going for the obvious is an honest choice and it’s good for the search engine results page.
Potential clients don’t think ‘I need a new website – I better type a random colour and animal into a search engine’, they’ll search for what they need.
So it’s good to have what you do in your name: it provides clarity in a world of attention scarcity.
There is a downside to using generic keywords: ranking in the search engines will be difficult when you’re starting out. That may be avoided if you’re targeting a particularly niche market – like websites for dentists, for example. In that case, it would be wise to include an indication of that in your name.
It surprises me how few digital marketing/web companies don’t use their local area in their name. While I appreciate that going to too local – village level – might point to a lack of ambition, but simply calling yourself ‘<Your City> Digital Marketing’ or similar could have benefits.
Try it on your town: do a search. I’m surprised at how few web companies use this tactic, when – thanks to Google’s local searches – it proves so successful for other local businesses.
My instinct is that it’s an ego-thing: everyone expects to be the next Saatchi when they start in the industry. And speaking of egos…
Name it after yourself
And why not? Make things personal. It’s a way to get a unique name which is also relatively ‘value free’: a blank canvas that that you can project your USPs against. It can also sound ‘classy’ – evoking the mythical ‘Mad Men’ agencies of the past.
This only works if you have a cool-sounding name, of course.
Still, Bartle Bogle Hegarty aren’t doing badly.
What’s in a name?
Maybe we should go with what has been proven to work, not what our ‘refined’ tastes rebel against? Perhaps there is something to all those colour/animal combinations that are around.
In business, it’s literally the bottom line that matters. You may be the most talented designer in the world, but if you don’t attract custom, it’s not going to help.
So, if you call your company Mauve Macaw Media or Crimson Campylobacter Design it may well work out. Let me know if it does (I want 10%).
What do you think? Do you agree?
Are you proud of the successful name you chose, or stuck with a name you regret?
Let us know.